The Doha Centre for Media Freedom (DCMF) has concluded its first training workshop on news writing skills as part of a programme to reach out to the journalism community in Libya.
Seventeen participants attended the five-day session held in Tripoli, in partnership with the Libyan Association for Free Media.
The workshop, which ended on December 14, consisted of presentations, assignments and discussions. Media expert Hassan Rachidi led the training, which was monitored by DCMF’s senior training coordinator Petrus Schothorst.
An important step
The workshop marks another stage of the DCMF’s journey to create a training mechanism which will ensure a better media in Libya. The plan is to support the growing community of journalists adopt a flexible and adaptable approach, despite divergent opinions.
After decades of controlled and heavily censored media, Libya's journalists remember the days easily where their only job was to glorify the Gaddafi regime. Under-prepared reporters are now facing difficulties in career development and some struggle with the basics of reporting.
The ’basic tools of the profession’ was one segment in the latest training. Reporting skills were presented, practised and discussed, as well as lessons on how to write news, conduct interviews and cover press conferences in line with international standards.
The Libyan Association for Media Freedom selected participants, a list which was later approved by Schothorst.
Journalists had to apply by submitting a statement outlining their interests. Those who were not selected but met the criteria will be invited to participate in a similar workshop in the coming months.
The first day of the workshop focused on the essential elements of news writing and the basic construction of story using the inverted pyramid structure.
The pyramid idea means that the most newsworthy information in terms of substance, interest and importance should lead the story. The journalists learned they should start by asking the questions the reader would.
The importance of the five W questions (who, what, when, where and why) was referred to, in addition to how? which is needed for further clarification.
The structure should enable readers to understand the story from the first paragraph, even if they do not finish the whole article. This method, explained the trainers, helps an editor to resize the article, by removing the less important information at the bottom of the article.
The group wrote several stories in this way before engaging in a discussion on criteria and international standards.
The second day of the workshop began with the journalists reviewing examples of their work.
Different types of writing were explored. The definition of hard news, commonly referred to as news of the day, was explained, compared to soft news, which is not time-sensitive. The group also learned about profiles of people, countries, features and editorials - all important facets of journalism, but less time-sensitive than breaking news. Day two’s training also advised the reporters to focus on a specific in their careers, to improve their skills.
The third day focused on interview skills, preparation and angles.
The trainers shared techniques such as writing down as many questions as possible, finding a balance between polite conversation and asking difficult questions, and the wording of questions. A role play, where the journalists presented their questions, followed. The candidates were then asked to write a story based on the interview.
The fourth day was all about press conferences.
Press conferences are, trainers said, good opportunities for journalists in terms of gathering news, but they were warned that such meetings are used by companies for free publicity.
A mock press conference was held and the reporters wrote up a review.
The fifth day related to the importance of sources. The ethics of using information and ways of judging the reliability of different sources was discussed. The three levels of attribution, the trainers explained, are:
- On the record. The reporter is given the permission to use both the sources' name and words.
- Non-attributable. Reporters can use the information but not the source's name.
- Off the record. Reporters are not allowed to use the information or source’s name.
The difference between primary sources, written sources and leaked documents was also explored.
Split up into groups, the participants were then given an exercise to find sources, represent their findings and write a story based on them.
Thesession intended to boost journalistic practices which take the country’s aspirations, sensitivities and war grievances into consideration, as well as people's choices and ideologies.
At the end of this workshop, participants were able to understand the differences between short and longer form journalism. Their knowledge and ability to practice of international standards of journalism was increased. Importantly, in a country which is still undergoing massive change, they learnt about using sources effectively and using events such as press conferences to their advantage.